Many photographers turn their lenses on unconventional subjects, but few do so with the celebratory approach of the London-based South African artist Alice Mann. Alice has accumulated an impressive portfolio over the years; her last project documented the London and Paris-based Congolese members of La Sape subculture who use fashion as a means of empowerment. For her latest project, Drummies, Alice chronicles a group of young drum majorettes as they compete across South Africa. “I have been focusing on subcultures that positively affirm collective or individual identity. I try to present viewers with empowering images that are reflective of the way people see themselves and that highlight my subjects’ dignity and confidence,” Alice tells It’s Nice That.
The idea behind Drummies emerged after Alice read about the drum majorettes in a newspaper while in Cape Town. Curious to find out more, Alice set out to investigate the confident girls she had seen pictures of in the press. “In South Africa, the sport’s popularity peaked during the 70s, but participation has since dropped. However, at a number of schools, it is still very much alive. It is taken seriously and is considered a highly competitive sport. For the girls involved, the practice schedules are incredibly intense, so being a ‘drummie’ shows that you are a hard worker. Many of the girls come from communities affected by high levels of poverty and where opportunities are limited. Involvement in the sport is therefore also seen as beneficial because of the structure and positive focus it gives them,” the photographer explains. Alice’s series is, in this sense, both a testament to the young athletes and their matching uniforms as well as being a hopeful reminder of the future generation of young, strong and driven women.
“I have always been interested in stories that focus on people, so portraiture has been a natural way for me to do this. I’m starting to incorporate a documentary approach into my work as I feel this enables me to expand the visual narratives. It’s vital that viewers can connect and engage with the individuals in my photographs,” Alice says. Handing the power over to her photographic subjects is a big part of what Alice does. She is committed to capturing their own sense of self rather than imposing her own narratives and viewpoints onto her images. “I often end up spending a long time on each of my projects. This helps create a deeper engagement with those I work with, which I think is something that is clear to people viewing them.”
An avid believer in the empowering potential of photography, Alice uses her camera to serve a good cause. The artist explains, “I hope that these images can communicate even a small amount of the pride and confidence that these girls have achieved through identifying as ‘drummies,’ in a context where they face many social challenges. Perhaps one day these images might contribute towards the visual documentation of this inspiring female subculture, in a world where so many sporting opportunities and events are still concentrated on boys’ sports.”